Back To School Warning: Cheating On Papers Just Got A Whole Lot Harder

Back to school time is here, and maybe, just maybe when student’s first term paper is due, some students might take a stab at cheating. That, however, would be ill-advised as cheating is tougher than ever, thanks to companies like Turnitin.

Turnitin is the name of an anti-cheating software company, and it’s more popular than ever. Teachers and professors are now asking students to run their papers through anti-cheating programs like Turnitin before handing the papers in to be graded. Turnitin, the most popular anti-cheating website, compares the students’ papers to a database of over 45 billion other papers to find any similarities. At the same time, the student’s paper is entered into the ever-growing database to be compared against all future papers when they are checked for cheating.

Chris Harrick, the vice president of marketing at Turnitin, told NPR about their system:

“Automatically, that paper gets checked against about 45 billion web pages; 110 million content items from publishers, scientific journals, et cetera; and 400 million student papers to provide an originality report.”

Students in many institutions are required to submit their papers to an anti-cheating website like Turnitin’s as part of the procedure for handing in their papers to be graded. As stated above, Turnitin compares the paper as a whole and the different parts of the paper against a ridiculously large database. The anti-cheating website then sends an “originality” report to the teacher along with the student’s paper, so the teacher can decide independently if the student has plagiarized another’s work. According to Turnitin’s website, a report will never definitively claim if the student has cheated or not, it will just offer an originality report so the teacher can decide.

Cheating Kids

According to Harrick, over half of all higher education institutions and a quarter of all high-schools in the United States use some sort of anti-cheating service like Turnitin.

Some critics of the anti-cheating software say that the services can’t differentiate between actual cheating and incidental cheating.

Rebecca Moore Howard, professor of writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University, said about the anti-cheating software:


“The use of a plagiarism-detecting service implicitly positions teachers and students in an adversarial position. The students have to prove themselves innocent before their work can be read and graded.”

Tom Dee, a professor in the graduate school of Stanford, said that lots of times, the problem is not that students are intending to cheat, they just have no idea how to cite sources. Dee said that his team gave students a tutorial on what is and what isn’t plagiarism at the beginning of the year, and the team saw “a substantial reduction in plagiarism” from students.

Some teachers are using the anti-cheating software as a teaching tool in the same vein as Dee’s group. Students put their first drafts through the anti-cheating websites, and they get to see the comparison results for themselves. In that way, students can see what’s acceptable and what isn’t if they’re unsure as to the parameters of plagiarism. As a result, they can change their papers before handing in the final drafts. They can see in advance that they’re not going to get away with it.

Of course, with any system, there will be those that will try to circumvent it. However, Turnitin alone adds over 30,000 papers per day to their system, making cheating more difficult than ever, and it will only get tougher in the future.

image via Above the Law and Paper Masters